Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Robe by Liberty of London, ca 1897 London, the Victoria & Albert Museum
This garment with its full sleeves and long, flowing silhouette owes much of its inspiration to Pre-Raphaelite dress. The gown consists of a flared front panel attached to an open, flowing robe which falls from pleats at the back. The front panel has a patch pocket on the right side which is hidden by the deep plush edging.
Materials & Making
The puffed sleeves, wide cuffs and velvet edgings are inspired by plain, loose 16th century gowns. The sunflower and pomegranate motif on the fabric was a recurring design on objects associated with the Aesthetic Movement. The subtle gold and brown tones were popular ‘artistic’ colours used in both dress and furnishing fabrics during the 1890s.
Pre-Raphaelite painters had clothed their models in plain, loose dresses based on the forms of ‘early Medieval art’. The opening of Liberty’s dress department in 1884 helped popularise the taste for aesthetic dress. The Liberty designs which ranged from aesthetic gowns and children’s artistic dresses to more conventional ‘tea-gowns’ had a wide international appeal among the social elite.
Ownership & Use
This type of dress was seen as the healthy and aesthetic alternative to the corseted and constrictive fashions in conventional dress. Before long it was not only those with artistic leanings who chose to wear garments which fit more loosely. By the early 20th century many fashionable dresses had a softer shoulder line and a more natural silhouette.
Liberty & Co catalogue with 12 color plates, November 1908
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Portrait of Mrs Samuel McCall, Sr by Robert Feke, 1746 US (Philadelphia), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
While the dress may have existed, it might have been painted from memory or copied from an image, such as an engraving. (The dress was probably artistic, not worn in everyday life. The museum confirms this in the description below.) It was common practice in the 18th century, especially in colonial and early America, for artists to paint ready-made “bases”, so to speak, on which to later fill in a clients’ head or just their face. This patron must have paid more for her portrait than the patron of the previous image, since this one is more detailed and has more naturalistic shading. The source I’ve linked to at the American Folk Art Museum briefly talks about how one artist could have many different styles.
One of several portraits of Philadelphia’s McCall family, this painting features a young woman standing erect in front of an Ionic column and beside a swath of crimson drapery and a Rococo marble-topped table on which she rests her hand. Imposing, elegant, and spare, it shows how Robert Feke provided dignified portraits for his clientele, whether in Philadelphia, Boston, Virginia, or Barbados.
The first major native-born artist of the British North American colonies, Feke is known for his relatively large, impressive portraits. He borrowed from the tradition of Baroque portraiture, including swags of brightly colored drapery, columns, elegant dresses, and props. His grand portraits of colonists dressed and posed in the guise of English nobility evoke a quality of dignity and grace, and as exemplified in this excellent example, showcase a combination of grandeur and simplicity.
At the time Feke painted Anne McCall, she had been married for nine years to her cousin, Samuel, a prominent Philadelphia merchant. Here, she is dressed in a radiant, crystal-buttoned, blue silk dress, with a salmon pink underskirt, accentuated at the narrow waist by a tassel belt. She gracefully holds a peony in her long, tapering fingers.
Mary McCall by Robert Feke, ca 1746 US (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Feke is considered the first important American-born artist. He developed a style that was distinct from the prevalent English technique practiced in the Colonies. This “native style” became popular, and Feke earned a living as an itinerant portraitist, traveling between Boston, Philadelphia, and Newport, Rhode Island. Little is known of Feke; his later life is particularly mysterious. After embarking from Newport in 1750, possibly bound for commissions in Barbados, he was never heard from again.
Mary McCall was a member of the Philadelphia Dancing Assembly, which hosted dances every two weeks and was a vital part of the social life of colonial Philadelphia. She holds a single flower, a common device in Feke’s portraits, in this case possibly indicating McCall’s availability for marriage. Seven years after this portrait was thought to have been painted, McCall married the merchant William Plumstead, whoserved as mayor of Philadelphia in the mid-1750’s.
Feb 28, 1914 Puck cover with an illustration by Nelson Greene, 1914 US
Some people in 1914 seemed to have been under the impression that the most fashionable women would dye or would soon be dying their hair outrageous colors to match the outrageous colors of their evening gowns. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I’ve seen it referenced in a number of cartoons from that year.
Also, I’d love to have a framed print of this.
Photo of Baroness de Guestre, 1913, the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)
I’m not sure what the sandals are all about.
Aesthetic evening dress, 1890’s
Constance Cornwallis-West by anonymous, date missing (1890’s-1900’s?)